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Media Math

ptrigg_aIt’s obvious that journalism students at the University of South Florida aren’t attending class for the love of calculus, but they might want to take special care when crunching numbers for articles.

“The biggest sin in reporting…is getting it wrong,” said Preston Trigg.

Trigg, the director of administration and special projects at the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office, oversees purchasing, assets and contracts, so it is especially important for him to have a handle on math.

And he’s especially keen when it comes to examining expenses.

“Look especially hard at personnel and capital,” said Trigg.

Operating expense is the third charge important to budget journalism, which concerns the recurring kind.

Trigg called further attention to revenue, which consists of fines, fees and payments made to the county, and “rainy day” funds that hold year-to-year fund surpluses.

Most states in the U.S. balance their budgets with a few exceptions, said Trigg.  California is one.

Perhaps the most interesting, and baffling part of budget journalism is millage.  A mill is one tenth of a cent.

Millage is basically property tax which an owner is bound by law to pay in relation to the value of the property.

The millage rate can change between counties and cities.  For instance, the millage in Shalimar, Fla. is 2.2 mills.

In Alachua County, the rate is 6.9.  Orange County registered lower at 4.75.

Pinellas county commissioners just approved a millage rate of 4.8 in September.  They also approved millage rates on municipal service budgets and the public library cooperative budget.

In a county the size of Pinellas, that rate equals a significant chunk of change.

Once the money comes in from the return on the millage tax, the money goes to a variety of funds and accountd.  It’s important to utilize Trigg’s budget journalism techniques as a system of journalistic checks and balances to make sure the money from millage tax is spent honestly and efficiently.

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